Lykke Li flaunts typical breakup songs with new album

ALEX SIDDONS | Evergreen columnist

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Heartbreak is a feeling no one wants to endure, but Lykke Li’s third album “I Never Learn” is a soundtrack for the most doleful souls. Though it’s lyrically and musically a new direction for Li, the album as a whole falls flat.

The success of Li’s previous albums “Youth Novels” and “Wounded Rhymes” might lead one to believe she could shine in the realm of upbeat pop music with electronic influences. But the upbeat moments in songs like “I’m Good, I’m Gone” from her debut have been replaced by slow-burning songs like “No Rest for the Wicked.”

Li and her producer Björn Yttling of the band Peter Bjorn and John took “I Never Learn” in a new direction with anguished ballads and a more stripped-back production style.

In an interview with Carrie Battan for Pitchfork, Li said her new album was born out of a devastating breakup that resulted in a cross-continental move from her native Sweden to Los Angeles. Even without this information, the fact that a breakup influenced “I Never Learn” is painfully obvious. Songs like the minimally arranged “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” and the woeful “Sleeping Alone” are definitive twee ballads.

The album gets off to a slow start, and that’s because the first half is full of stagnant songs. The layered vocals in “Just Like a Dream” and “Silver Line” sound uncomfortable and undermine the natural beauty of Li’s voice, which is laden with reverb and some instrumentation that hang around for too long.

Cleverly placed in the middle of the album is “Gunshot,” a favorite which sounds nothing like the tracks on either side of it. The percussion is sharp and vastly out of place on an otherwise downtrodden album. While the first half of the song is a number of Li’s depressed confessions, “Gunshot” sounds far more confident. Though ‘uplifting’ doesn’t quite describe it, the track appears to mark a change of pace on the album.

The latter half of “I Never Learn” finds Li wearing her heart on her sleeve, but at least she feels more comfortable with it. In “Never Gonna Love Again,” Li sings about how she won’t give in this time and how she will, as one might guess, never love again.

“Heart of Steel” is almost triumphant in its sadness, with a gospel-like choir accompanying Li during the chorus. What follows and concludes the album is too candid, leaving nothing to the imagination of the listener, but is perfectly arranged for an arena full of crying ex-lovers.

It seems ironic that in an interview with The Independent in 2008 Li stated, “I want people to have a good time. It’s boring to only hear singer-songwriters spilling their guts.”

Over the haunting strings and primal percussion of “Sleeping Alone,” Li does just what she found boring, regardless that the song ends on a hopeful note.

“I Never Learn” is certainly the most emotive and personal album in Li’s discography, but it’s far removed from her potential as a pop songstress. While Li isn’t about to convert the masses, current fans might be reaching for the tissue box.